7:09 | As a child, Bill Acebes picked fruit alongside his parents. As a man, he entered the service along with his brothers. Going for airborne meant extra money and, he thought, the chance to study electronics. First he had to face the rigors of basic training.
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Still believing he was going to study electronics, Bill Acebes arrived at Ft. Gordon for the next stage of training. When he asked about radar, he was informed that this was the infantry and he was the radar beam. The last stop was jump training, where the sergeants "all came from hell. You could see it in their eyes."
Bill Acebes arrived in Vietnam in the midst of mortar fire and thought, "We're gonna start fighting from right here!" Volunteering for a new organization using long range insertion by air, he quickly found the action hot and heavy.
Two things Bill Acebes remembers vividly from Vietnam: the lack of drinking water in the field and the teak trees he used for cover. Ponchos were used to collect rainwater but there was something wrong with that and he can taste it to this day... The teak trees were good for cover but could also prevent evacuation, as he learned during a particularly bad day.
Bill Acebes literally dodged a bullet when he fell down during an operation in Vietnam and the ricochet hit a WWII veteran who was still serving. He couldn't escape the sharp edge from a C-ration lid, though, and that led to an angry exchange with a medic. In what he considers his closest call of the tour, he noticed, just in time, the tiny trip wire next to his Lieutenant's boot.
During his first tour of Vietnam, Bill Acebes experienced the distaste of searching for a missing soldier who turned out to be a coward but he also enjoyed the awesome sight of a new Huey Delta gunship. As he was leaving, he made Sergeant, then could barely get out of the country due to incoming fire. After a short run at college, he returned for a second tour as an advisor.
With Airborne training and two tours of Vietnam behind him, what Bill Acebes really wanted was to go to Ranger school, but those slots were hard to get. It took a little luck and a friend who was an aide to a General to make it happen. Once he had his Ranger tab, a chance encounter in a hallway gave him his next boost.
Leading a small Ranger reaction force during Operation Urgent Fury on the island of Grenada, Bill Acebes secured the airfield and the nearby medical school. He took charge of a motley group of vehicles that included a Russian jeep, a cart with yellow fringe and a Jaguar. He gave the chaplain the cart and you can guess which one he drove.
Even in a small operation like Urgent Fury in Grenada, there is the tragic result of war and Bill Acebes tells of comforting a junior soldier who came across a disturbing sight after a helicopter crash. In lighter moments he showed the newbies how he used C4 explosive in Vietnam for a common purpose.
Forward air controller George Ferkes marked his targets with white phosphorus rockets that put out a lot of smoke. He also had a Starlight scope, the first practical night vision device, but it was bulky and hard to use. He describes one memorable mission which had him supporting an ARVN unit near the DMZ which was overrun by the enemy.
American advisor John Le Moyne didn't give the South Vietnamese Airborne unit much advice. He was there to call in air strikes, artillery, Medevacs and resupply. He marveled at the toughness and courage of the fighters who traced the unit's lineage back to the French Colonial Airborne.
Can I cut the mustard? Tom Agnew was apprehensive on the way to Vietnam and wondering if he was up to the task. He was assigned as a medic in a helicopter evacuation unit, known as Dustoff. On one of his first missions, he learned not to triage the wounded too quickly. (Caution: coarse language.)
When a new pilot checked in, David Farthing asked where he was before. The answer caused him to bite his tongue. They were always short of pilots in the assault helicopter company, but he didn't think this guy was going to work out. Overall, though, things were getting better and it was his opinion that it had a lot to do with the new top commander, Creighton Abrams. (Caution: coarse language.)
Everyone breathing in a uniform was hurriedly mobilized by the 82nd Airborne as they scrambled to reply to Gen. Westmoreland's demand for more troops. On the flight over, while some of the planes were grounded by weather, Jim Littig saw an amazing test of wills in an Airborne versus Air Force standoff.
Operation Lam Son 719 was an attempt by the South Vietnamese forces to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail and disrupt the supply of Communist forces in the South. George Ferkes supported them by calling in air strikes where needed. The campaign went so badly that, eventually, he was calling in strikes to destroy abandoned armor.
It wasn't any ragtag Viet Cong, it was a battalion of NVA that was assaulting the artillery battery where Sammy Davis was stationed in the Mekong Delta. After an RPG hit his gun, he regained consciousness and found his position nearly overrun. After firing every round he had, he saw a wounded American on the other side of the river. He knew what he had to do and his actions brought him consideration for the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.
This isn't going to work. That's what Tony Nadal told his boss, Hal Moore, as they launched a helicopter assault to search for the enemy. He was right. The forces scattered and hid, so new tactics were called for. The next assault was in the Ia Drang Valley and they were perhaps too successful. Part 1 of 5.
Why were the Montagnard units getting no contact? It was determined that they weren't going out far enough and on the second patrol that ventured further, Jim Bolan and the combined unit ran into the back of a VC ambush. A furious firefight followed, and he summoned his ace in the hole, the Air Force.
Forward air controller Mike Leonard went up to Ban Me Thuot to help out for a few days. The first night, as he settled in with a cold beer, the radio crackled with pleas for help from a nearby special forces camp. They were under siege. Part 1 of 3.
When someone at work made a comment that America had lost the Vietnam War, Roye Wilson was shocked. Our soldiers never lost a battle there. The politicians decided they would leave and they did. To him, it was an honorable enterprise and the only right course at the time and it is his belief that it contributed to the fall of Soviet communism.
Following a harrowing first day of combat, Tom Buchan was surprised to find hot food flown in and cots to sleep on. He managed to finally get himself on a tank crew through sheer will and intelligence. It was the day he helped out one of the APC crews, though, that earned him recognition.
It could be tough getting resupplied in the field in Vietnam. Medic Marvin Cole nearly had a Chinook land on top of him in the fog. He and his medical platoon performed missions treating civilians in their villages and he relates a chilling story of a child used by the enemy to attack one of these operations.
The Air Force rescue crews flying the big helicopters known as the Jolly Green Giants began to get respect among the pilots of other services because they excelled at retrieving downed airmen. Pilot Dave Oliver was on one such mission, which was going badly, when the commander asked if was he willing to go in without waiting for backup. The situation was dire for the men on the ground so the answer was affirmative. He would be awarded the Silver Star for this action.
While he was beginning his shift as the night duty officer, Lawson Magruder would marvel at the wrecked helicopters brought back to base. The brigade had moved and tactics had not been adjusted for the fact that there were anti-aircraft batteries up near the DMZ. He relates the story of LT Dick Anshus and a downed pilot who were captured.
It was the most intense action he saw during the war. Mike Morris describes the hour long battle with an NVA unit that made an unusual frontal assault. When daylight came, it was a grim scene, with hundreds of enemy dead.
It was hard to find the enemy. Charlie would disappear into his holes and only come out once the Marines of Mike company had left. Richard Jackson's men tried probing the ground with sharp sticks, but they broke too easily. What they needed was steel. Thus was born the "Mike Spike." Part 1 of 2.
Platoon leader Bill Pearson sent out a squad to set up a night ambush and when they made contact, it was with a much larger VC force. With the rest of the platoon, he set out to find them and bring them back. When he located the besieged squad, the battle became intense and they were in danger of being wiped out. In a desperation move, he called in artillery on his own position.
After the column was devastated by an NVA ambush, wounded Americans were scattered in the darkness. After his captain heard one such group calling for help on the radio, Freddie Owens joined a patrol to find them, guided by a gunshot every few minutes. Once there, medic Daniel Torres volunteered to stay with those who couldn't move and protected them through the night with medicine and a machine gun.
His company command at the Cua Viet River was just the way Richard Jackson liked it. He was given free reign to take care of his area. He describes the tactics he used to fight the enemy and recalls one memorable fight in which his men and an NVA unit charged at each other in darkness.
One night, while Laurie was eating dinner, the USS Sanctuary got a call about a plane crash. She vividly remembers the patients coming aboard, and the aftermath of this incident, including one boy who was MIA. However, as difficult as this experience was, this was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. They had new wounded coming in constantly, and trying to care for all of them at once was emotionally exhausting. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the Military Heritage Museum- https://freedomisntfree.org/.)
The RPG that severed Joe McDonald’s foot didn’t kill him. The machine gun fire that hit him as he still tried to help others didn’t kill him. The grenade taped to his hand might have killed him if the VC had found his hiding place.
In a letter home, Tommy Clack expressed his worry that something bad was going to happen and it did when his unit engaged the NVA near the Cambodian border. He saw the enemy soldier stand and fire the RPG that changed his life forever.
As Marine Captain Ron Christmas fought to regain the city of Hue, he found the enemy adept at concealment and surprise. Every soldier in a spider hole was armed with a rifle and a RPG launcher. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
They were hunkered down after fierce fighting when the call came from "Ghost 4-6." It was a group of wounded men who had pulled themselves together after the ill fated march to LZ Albany and were lost in the dark. George Forrest sent a patrol to find them, and in an incredible act of bravery, medic Daniel Torres stayed through the night with them and saved many men. Captain Forrest still had to write a gut-wrenching letter to the mother of a missing soldier. Part 3 of 4.
He was married and in graduate school but when his deferment no longer protected him from the draft, George Ferkes enlisted in the Air Force and learned to fly. He was assigned as a forward air controller and began training for Vietnam.
After basic training, Bruce Hojnacki found out he was going to be an MP. The advanced training for the military police was right there at Fort Gordon, where he had his basic. Then, like most draftees at the time, he got orders for Vietnam.